Godstone Farm wholly liable for E. coli cases

Twins Aaron and Todd Mock
Image caption Twins Aaron and Todd Mock suffered kidney damage after contracting E. coli

A ruling that a Surrey petting farm was wholly liable for an E. coli outbreak has been welcomed by lawyers for some of the 93 people infected.

A total of 76 children under the age of 10 became ill after they contracted E. coli at Godstone Farm in 2009.

The farm claimed the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Tandridge District Council should share responsibility.

"This is quite an important decision for farms around the country," said victims' lawyer Jill Greenfield.

"The High Court made it very clear that the farm have ultimate responsibility - they can't try and pass this on to other authorities."

Seriously ill

Ms Greenfield's firm, Field Fisher Waterhouse, acts for 30 of the victims including twins Aaron and Todd Furnell, from Paddock Wood, Kent.

They suffered acute kidney failure after contracting E. coli following a trip to Godstone Farm when they were two.

Aaron needed a feeding tube for liquids for several months, and both children may need kidney transplants in the future.

Other toddlers were also seriously ill on dialysis, and many of the children affected now have compromised kidney functioning.

The farm was criticised by an independent investigation a year after the outbreak.

The inquiry found Tandridge council and the regional branch of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) were aware of several cases of E.coli connected to the farm but did not visit or put restrictions in place immediately.

Image caption Godstone Farm shut on 12 September 2009, four weeks after the first case of E. coli was reported

The farm has admitted liability but brought a claim against the HPA and Tandridge, arguing they owed it a duty of care.

The High Court last week ruled that the farm's claim had no legal basis.

Ms Greenfield said it ended a long period of uncertainty for the families who were pursuing claims for damages.

"We will carry on quantifying their claims, some of which are very serious, with renal problems that will be life-long " she said.

"Trying to put values on that is difficult because we are dealing with very young children.

"We have absolutely got to get this right and will make sure every case has provision that could enable us to reopen it.

"A great deal will depend on whether any of the children go on to suffer renal failure in later life."

'Focus on education'

The HPA and Tandridge Council said they were pleased with the outcome at the High Court.

The council added that it was continuing to work with the farm to ensure the safety of visitors.

"The council now hopes the question of damages is dealt with as swiftly as possible to enable the families to have the necessary financial support," said assistant chief executive Clive Moore.

Lawyers for Godstone Farm said its insurers admitted liability in 2011 and were dealing with the individual claims arising from the E.coli outbreak.

Spokeswoman Sarah Emerson said the farm sought a contribution from the HPA and Tandridge council, but the High Court ruling said no duty of care was owed by the public authorities.

She said the Griffin Inquiry reported in June 2010 on the outbreak and the farm had co-operated fully with that investigation.

She said the farm's focus had always been that a visit to the farm should be "an educational experience and also a safe and memorable one for all children".

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